Tips for Rhotacism: Condition where you can’t pronounce R

The ability to communicate verbally is essential for social and educational inclusion. Speech is formed through a need for language, and proper articulation of sounds is necessary for speech development. Articulation disorders, such as rhotacism, with difficulty pronouncing the /R/ sound, can lead to impaired speech. Different types of articulation disorders can be characterized by difficulty with specific sounds or groups of sounds. The most common types of articulation disorders include sigmatism, lambdacism, and rhotacism, either alone or in combination.

Speech and language disorders affect approximately 8-9 percent of young children. Rhotacism, the inability to pronounce the /r/ sound correctly, is one of children’s most common language and speech disorders.

Symptom: Is Rhotacism only for the letter R?

Rhotacism is primarily associated with difficulty in pronouncing the sound R, but there is a similar phenomenon for the letter L called lambdacism. Both speech impediments are characterized by the loss of the rhotic or lambdacism quality in pronunciation, respectively. These impediments are not a lisp, although they may be mistaken for one. 

Interestingly, all three impediments (rhotacism, lambdacism, and sigmatism or lisps) involve the letters R, L, or S. The term rhotacism originated from the New Latin word “rhotacism,” which means peculiar or excessive use of the letter R. This word was derived from the Ancient Greek word “rhōtakismós,” which referred to the incorrect use of the Greek letter rho, equivalent to the letter R.

How to identify a child with rhotacism?

Identifying children with rhotacism can be challenging due to the complexity of the different variations of the /r/ sound. However, there are ways to test which variations are challenging for them before starting speech therapy exercises. Parents can test their child’s pronunciation of basic /r/ vocalizations such as /ar/, /air/, /ear/, /ire/, /or/, /er/, /rl/, and the letter /r/ by itself. Alternatively, a full assessment with a speech therapist can also help identify which sounds the child needs help with.

Do At Home Exercises

Here are some exercises that a child with rhotacism can do at home to help improve their speech:

  1. Tongue twisters: These are phrases that contain many instances of the /r/ sound and can help the child practice making the sound correctly. Examples include “Red lorry, yellow lorry” and “Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.”
  2. Vocalic /r/ exercises: These exercises focus on the variations of the /r/ sound that are more challenging for children with rhotacism, such as the vocalic /r/ sounds like “air,” “ear,” and “ire.” A typical exercise is to have the child say these sounds in isolation and then in words and phrases.
  3. Mirror exercises: These exercises involve having the child watch their mouth in a mirror while making the /r/ sound to ensure that their tongue is in the correct position.
  4. Bite and hold exercises: These exercises involve having the child bite down on a tongue depressor or a similar object and then try to produce the /r/ sound while holding their bite.
  5. Games and activities: Making speech therapy fun can help engage children and make the exercises feel less like work. Games such as “I Spy” that focus on finding objects with the /r/ sound or using the sound in silly sentences can help children practice their speech in a fun way.

Remember that it’s essential to work with a licensed speech therapist to develop a customized treatment plan for your child. These exercises can be helpful supplements to in-person therapy sessions but should not replace them.


Practicing speech therapy exercises regularly is crucial for improvement, but getting kids to practice can be a challenge. Here are some tips to encourage your child to practice:

  1. Use the TV as a tool: Have your child listen to what the characters are saying and repeat words or phrases back to you while watching TV or a movie.
  2. Find learning opportunities in everyday tasks: Look for opportunities for your child to practice while doing daily tasks such as eating out at a restaurant or shopping for groceries.
  3. Combine practice with something else they enjoy: Pair speech therapy exercises with something fun, like playing a game or doing an activity they enjoy.
  4. Offer rewards: Consider offering rewards for practicing, such as earning a piece of a toy after every practice session or points they can cash in later for a larger prize.
  5. Make it a routine: Schedule regular practice sessions and make them a part of your child’s daily routine.
  6. Keep it positive: Encourage your child with positive reinforcement and avoid criticizing or pressuring them. Celebrate their progress and successes along the way.

Public Figures who had Rhotacism Speech Problem

There are several well-known individuals who have struggled with rhotacism, including actors, singers, and politicians. Here are a few more examples:

  • Elmer Fudd’s (Looney Tunes) speech pattern made Elmer famous. His speech is characterized by the substitution of the “R” sound with the “W” sound. This unique trait has made him a memorable and beloved character in popular culture, with his signature phrase, “Oh, that wascally wabbit!” instantly recognizable to many.
  • Barry Kripke is a character from the popular TV show “The Big Bang Theory” who is known for having both rhotacism and lambdacism. Rhotacism is a speech impediment that affects the pronunciation of the “r” sound, while lambdacism affects the pronunciation of the “l” sound.
  • James Earl Jones, the famous actor known for his deep voice and roles in movies like Star Wars and The Lion King, has struggled with rhotacism throughout his life.
  • Bruce Willis, another famous actor, has also had difficulty with the /r/ sound and has worked with speech therapists to improve his pronunciation.
  • Carly Simon, the singer-songwriter, has spoken publicly about her struggle with rhotacism and how it has affected her career.


Rhotacism can be caused by a variety of factors, including environmental factors where the person grew up hearing R’s pronounced differently, a difference in the shape of the mouth or tongue, or never learning how to produce the letter. In children, rhotacism can occur when parents or adults around them speak in baby talk. For some people, speech issues are secondary to an existing condition such as cerebral palsy, cleft lip or palate, or a tongue tie. 


Rhotacism can be treated through speech therapy, and the earlier it is detected and treated, the better the prognosis. A Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) can assess the severity of the problem and determine if it can be fixed. Children with speech disorders may be placed in a special education program to receive speech therapy during school hours.

Written by: Dr. Jaafar Said

Edited and Reviewed by: Dr. Juhairah Magarang-Said

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